Tuesday, November 25, 2008

Something to Shoot For...

As I spent yesterday afternoon hauling wagons of ear corn and loading them in to the corn crib for our neighbor/friend/church member I got to thinking about feed. More specifically I was thinking about how nice it would be to be able to grow our own livestock feed. Of course we don't have nearly enough land to do that right now, but I do think it is something that I would like to look at in the future.

There are a couple of different ways to look at the feed question. One angle is that it doesn't pay to raise your own feed because someone else who has the equipment and is specialized can do it at a lower cost and more efficiently. Also, having the equipment and maintaining it can also be a drain on time and money. One the other hand though I can see quite a few benefits to raising our own feed (by the way, I'm pretty much talking about pig and chicken feed).

If we were able to raise everything here on our farm we would have complete control of what our animals are being fed. In fact, we would know that from the time they were born on the farm until they needed to move on what it was they ate. Also, I could see it as a good thing because we would be keeping all of the nutrients here on the farm ... in a sort of cyclical way. Having that kind of control would be a good thing I believe for both us and any customers.

But, I do see the time/machinery argument. I think the key would be to have a 1950's line of equipment. For example, the guy that I was helping out yesterday used a small line of equipment that included a four row planter and a two row picker. This is the same equipment that he has been using (except for the fact that he started with a one row picker) for the past 30 plus years. In that time he had a milking herd and beef cattle, but did everything he needed to do with a older and smaller line of equipment. Maybe he would have liked to upgrade with the times, but he realized he didn't need to.

What do you think? I know there are many holes in my "dream", but it was just something that was on my mind as I was driving and unloading...


Steven said...

I can see why you wouldn't want to be sending feed off the farm to somewhere else, but wouldn't it be a good thing to bring feed onto the farm.

Ethan Book said...

Steven - I know what you are saying about bringing stuff in and I can't really argue with that ... except, that means it is leaving another farm.

Dave_Flora said...

I believe that keeping the scale, and more importantly cost, down on any farm is a wise choice. I just finished reading "The Have-More Plan", written just after WWII, and the idea of economy of scale is addressed there as well. I think growing your own feed is a good idea...you'll be eating it yourself once it goes through a pig or beef...and you've got to find the most cost-effective way to do it. That means, by hand, by horse, or by vintage machinery, in my opinion. Today's machines are too expensive and have too many gadgets to afford.
Just start small...like you're doing..and you'll learn what works best!


Rich said...

I don't see how raising your own feed would be a "dream", it seems perfectly reasonable.

Isn't raising your own livestock feed the same sort of thinking that led you to build a significant portion of your house?

To be a truly diversified farm, I think you would need to grow a portion (however small) of the feed fed to your livestock. Additionally, even if you only plant an acre, it will enable you to learn how to grow a crop so that you can take advantage of any opportunity that presents itself in the future.

Equipment is always a problem, but if you start asking around about older equipment and its uses, I think you will be surprised about how much you will find available. Once someone already owns a piece of equipment, (and are no longer looking for it) it seems like they suddenly know about a number of similar pieces available. On the other hand, if a person is desperately looking for a specific piece of equipment, it becomes as rare as hen's teeth. Ask your neighbor if he knows anybody who might still have equipment (what happened to that one-row picker) , look for older equipment sitting behind barns, be willing to buy TWO pieces of equipment in order to make ONE serviceable piece, etc.

Don't completely ignore bigger equipment either, I've seen older combines (such as late '60's JD 95's with 14-16 foot headers) sold at auctions for $500-$800 that would work perfectly on a smaller farm. Don't be afraid to modify equipment to make it work. Sometimes, bigger cultivation equipment can be cut down to a smaller manageable size (plus you get a bunch of spare parts).

Rich said...

"...we don't have nearly enough land to do that right now..."

I happened to be looking at the aerial photos (past and present) of your farm that you posted on your EpiLog blog and noticed that there used to be some small fields on the southern edge of your property (complete with connecting roads).

Have you considered doing some clearing and planting in that area to provide a little cropland and/or pasture? It seems like an ideal area to grow a little grain, maybe pasture some pigs, hang a deer stand in the fall, and eventually create some more grazing.

Ethan Book said...

Rich, I too noticed that area in the South (the Southwest I assume). I'm not quite sure what it was or how you would actually get to it because it is a pretty steep side hill to get to that point with what is now a huge ravine/ditch down the middle. A five acre strip (including that section) is actually in CRP right now and that particular area is our retirement fund because it was planted into walnuts and oaks!

I do like the idea of doing a small plot. Maybe some open pollenated corn that I can pick by hand ... an acre or two?

Rich said...

I have my 1-acre experimental corn field (OP, of course) plowed up in the corner of one of the wheat fields just waiting for spring planting.

I plan on planting some Reid Yellow Dent seed that I have grown on a smaller scale and selectively saving the seed so that I eventually get a variety that is ideally adapted to the area's growing conditions. After saving the seed from a small garden-sized plot I can already start to see the corn "adapting" to the area, so I am hoping that growing on a bigger scale will give even better seed saving results.

More information about OP field corns and seed is available at:


And information about flour corns and corn breeding is available at:


Anonymous said...


Once the corn is harvested via the corn picker.....does he feed the whole corn (cob and all) to his cattle or is it grinded?

Ethan Book said...

I believe he does feed some of the corn on the ear, but he also grinds and mixes.

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